The No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels will be in the national championship mix at season's end. After all, Roy Williams' squad is as talented as they come, and more importantly up to this point in 2012-13, healthy.
But that's not to say that the Tar Heels have played championship-caliber basketball to open the season. They have two losses already this year and looked incredibly overmatched in their blowout loss at No. 1 Indiana last month.
The Tar Heels' issues are fixable, however.
Here, we break down the biggest keys for North Carolina to improve as it heads into ACC play this January.
All statistics current through North Carolina's first nine games
North Carolina ranks fifth in the country this season in points per game (83.4), but just 71st in field-goal percentage (46.2). Clearly, the Tar Heels need to become a more efficient shooting team as conference play approaches.
Perhaps one of the biggest issues holding down North Carolina's shooting numbers has been the performance of sophomore guard P.J. Hairston, who has struggled thus far in 2012.
Hairston, the team's third-leading scorer this season, has the worst field-goal percentage (36.4) of any major player in North Carolina's rotation. He has attempted the third-most shots of any Tar Heels player this season, but has the sixth-most makes.
Roy Williams will need to get Hairston and others going over the next few weeks in order to make North Carolina a more lethal shooting unit, and thus a better basketball team.
North Carolina's turnovers haven't been a major issue yet this season, but they could be one come ACC time.
The Tar Heels are averaging 14.4 turnovers per game in 2012, ranking them worse than more than 190 other Division I teams. Only three other ACC teams are turning the ball over more often than North Carolina this year.
If there is a player or two to point to, it would be James McAdoo and Marcus Paige, who are combining for 6.2 giveaways per game by themselves.
Roy Williams must continue to preach smart passes and the importance of getting a shot up on every possession. Still, turnovers are a result of the pace at which North Carolina plays, so don't expect them to go away completely.
The Tar Heels rank 316th in the nation and dead last in the ACC in free-throw shooting through their first nine games this season. North Carolina is hitting just 61.7 percent of its foul shots in 2012, which will cost it not only a conference championship this season if it continues, but a national championship as well.
James McAdoo (59.4) and Dexter Strickland (53.8) are two key players both shooting below 60 percent from the charity stripe this season.
Both—in addition to the rest of the team—will need to spend some extra time in the gym perfecting their release. Missing nearly 40 percent of shots considered to be "free" is never acceptable, especially when you have hopes of winning a national title.
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